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Walking the Fine Line between Creating Change and Losing your Job

mountain climbers descending a narrow ridge

Last week I was part of an Oasis Community of Practice for people working in education. Education is a context where the opportunities, for both success and failure, have increased, and rules are becoming fewer. I’d been tussling with the experience of someone in a college who wants to change things. They are struggling with how to walk the fine line between fitting in and making things happen without losing their place or their job?

I noticed my own frustration with the apparent poverty of strategies to make a difference, however small. This was coupled with a sense of a lack of motivation to really ‘go for it’. I recognised the risks of wanting to make a difference whilst not making so big a wave that it jeopardises one’s job future or is simply too big a stressor on one’s life, especially when coupled with the self-defeating inner message of ‘it won’t work anyway, so why bother?’

The pull in different directions results can easily result in ambivalence, or a sense of powerlessness.

It is easy to forget that what will free me is to make a clear choice in one direction or another, learn from the consequences and be more informed to make a further choice.

Most of the important decisions in life are based on insufficient information.

In Transactional Analysis it is talked of as ‘do it or don’t do it’ because without a decision, I can be caught in an energy sapping bind.

Some people move into flight or freeze, becoming paralysed and finally so frustrated, they just look for a way to escape.

Others fight and become angry because they feel unjustly marginalised and look to get back at those who have put them in this position. The tendency to act in the roles of Persecutor or Victim can be strong and ultimately debilitating.

How to navigate an adult-to-adult approach seems to be the quest. I know in myself the tendency for trying the dramatic or heroic to make progress rather than turning to more quiet, collaborative and less fierce options. I’m also tempted to offering choices before really working with the clarifying and challenging phases – especially when I’ve set things up so I am too busy to practise what I believe in.

In the Community of Practice the comments about encouraging small wins, choosing clarity of focus, and using different modes of communication all had a flavour of finding the manageable, doable and different – and all helped me. Navigating difficult contexts by finding new options with the help of others makes me more resourceful in the future.

Colleagues have co-created strategies with clients to successfully navigate the paths between working with how things are and finding ways to make a difference. It’s important for me to capture these strategies. I sometimes forget the wealth of resource around me, readily available if only I ask.

Thankfully I am surrounded by people who have demonstrated how to thrive in and out of the system – quite a feat – and are strategy rich. They remind me that this hasn’t just come to them, reflection has contributed to their wisdom – thankfully I’m wise enough to create time to reflect with people smarter than me.